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is confronted with a choice between two mutually exclusive paths. Sometimes it's the choice between good and evil, law or chaos, or even just choosing between fire magic and ice magic. The point is, only one path can be taken, and there's no way back.
The point of this trope isn't the choice; it's the act of presentation
. As long as someone is presenting the choice as if the options are mutually exclusive and important to the character's life from then on, it doesn't matter what the choices are or who is presenting them.
Shows up in video games quite often, even in games without a Karma Meter
See also Sadistic Choice
and Take a Third Option
. Has some symbolic
relation to At the Crossroads
. Super Trope
of Red Pill, Blue Pill
Note that this trope can apply to events with more than two choices, so long as they are all still mutually exclusive.
Not to be confused with At the Crossroads
which is a trope about a more physical crossroads.
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Anime and Manga
- At the end of the second episode of Guilty Crown, Gai demands that Shu choose between returning to his normal life, and working with Funeral Parlor to free Japan. Shu chooses to go home...and Gai promptly sends Inori to his school, since Shu's ability is far too valuable to just ignore.
- The Trope Namer is Mahou Sensei Negima!, with Rakan explaining the difference between the main character's father's path and his master's path. Negi chooses the indirect route and begins the hard journey of mastering Magica Erebia, which transforms him into a kind of demon.
- In Pokémon, Dawn had to choose between Kenny, her childhood friend, and Ash, with whom she had been traveling for a long time. Guess whom she chose?
- Balto: Aleu gets this question posed to her by her Spirit Guide, Muru. She can continue on and find out who she really is, or return home to her family and old life. This one gets bonus points for being posed in song.
- In The Dark Knight, The Joker offers Batman a choice between saving Harvey and saving the girl; likewise, he offers both a passenger-ship and a ship full of prisoners the choice of blowing up the other ship in order to save themselves. Also an example of the Sadistic Choice.
- presented as this in "Batman Forever" where The Riddler has Batman choose between saving Robin or Chase. Ultimately subverted, as Batman saves them both because he chooses to be both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
- Morpheus offering Neo the red pill or blue pill in The Matrix.
- Also in The Matrix, after Neo is captured by the Agents he ends up in an interrogation room.
Agent Smith: It seems that you've been living two lives. In one life you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a Social Security number, you pay your taxes, and you help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers where you go by the hacker alias "Neo", and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.
- The Matrix Reloaded also ends with the Architect offering Neo a choice between two doors —one accomplishes his mission (sort of), the other saves Trinity's life. Neo chooses Trinity.
- In Men In Black, all prospective agents have the choice between remaining in their current occupations and leading their lives, or joining the agency and severing all ties to their former lives.
James Edwards: Is it worth it?
Agent K: Oh, it's worth it... if you're strong enough.
- in Mr. Nobody the plot resolves around these types of decisions, and the movie shows them all.
- Shows up in Star Wars pretty often.
Yoda: If you leave now, help them you could; but you would destroy all for which they have fought, and suffered.
- In Thank You For Smoking the Original Marlboro Man has cancer and is a about to become a spokesperson for the anti-tobacco lobby. Nick presents him with a Briefcase Full of Money. The guy can take the money and provide for his family or he can decline it and speak out against his former employers. Nick makes it quite clear that the guy cannot do both and has to choose.
- In Cry of the Icemark, the warlock has a choice between being good and being evil, and there is a very specific point in the text where he chooses: Simple, easy and powerful, or good? The choice was obvious. And then Thirrin spoke.
- Huckleberry Finn wrestles with the question of obeying the law or helping Jim escape from slavery. He chooses the latter, even though he thinks it literally puts him on the road to Hell.
- Les Misérables: When Jean Valjean saves Javert’s life, any other person would have to chose between To Be Lawful or Good. Javert’s Moral Dilemma is pretty different:
He beheld before him two paths, both equally straight, but he beheld two; and that terrified him; him, who had never in all his life known more than one straight line. And, the poignant anguish lay in this, that the two paths were contrary to each other. One of these straight lines excluded the other. Which of the two was the true one?...
- The Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken parodies this trope: even when the guy takes one road, there is no difference with the other except that it was less traveled. The whole point is that these roads were never mutually exclusive and the narrator is only a Ted Baxter that thinks there was any difference. See more at its entry at MisaimedFandom.Literature
- The hero of Le Roman de la Rose had to choose between The Rose and Reason.
- Woody Allen sent this up:
More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
Live Action TV
- iCarly: Spencer uses this analogy to help Carly decide between staying at Ridgeway or switching to the private school Briarwood in iMay Switch Schools:
Spencer: Listen, I'm your older brother. So I will help you through this difficult decision. Just... just close your eyes.
Carly: Okay. (She closes her eyes).
Spencer: Okay. There's two roads in front of you. Road A, and... the-the... one on the left. (Pauses, then runs out of the room).
Carly: (Opens her eyes, then laughs) Thank you!
- Monty Hall's "The box or the curtain?" on Lets Make A Deal
- On Star Trek: Voyager, the Doctor is presented a choice between saving a friend and saving someone he didn't know well, and both had identical chances of survival. The guilt from choosing his friend drives the Doctor insane as it creates a conflict between his base programming and what he'd become.
Myth and Legend
- In the Greek myth "The Judgment of Paris", he — had to choose among Wisdom, Power and Love (as personified by Minerva, Juno and Venus). It wasn't entirely a fair choice, though — all three goddesses used bribes. He chooses Love, and is thus given the love of the most beautiful woman alive - Helen, who just happens to be married already. This leads directly to the Trojan War
- Also from Greek myth, Heracles having to choose between an easy, comfortable life (pleasure) or a harsh, glorious one (virtue), he chose the latter.
- A similar prophecy affected Achilles - he would definitely die bored and unknown if he died old, and he would definitely die young if he went out finding glory in battle (which he is very good at) - namely the Trojan War. He was wanted the latter as a big Blood Knight and died in said war, despite his mother's attempts to keep him out of it.
- This is the famous Choice of Heracles: The allegorical figures of Vice and Virtue appeared to him to offer him a choice between a life of pleasures without achievement, and constant striving with great accomplishments. The story, from Prodikos, is told by Xenophon in his Apomnemoneumata.
- Pheidippides had to choose between the two arguments in The Clouds.
- Used less than subtly in Batman: Arkham City during the second-to-last Catwoman mission. While escaping from the vault with the loot she's been after the entire game, she hears about how Batman is in trouble and has to choose whether to go help him or escape with her money. The vault even has a green line painted toward the Batman door and a red one leading to the exit. You can take the red door if you want but it leads to a Non Standard Game Over where Batman and Gordon are killed and Oracle is left narrating as thugs sent by The Joker who has just become immortal raid Wayne Mansion.
- Kingdom Hearts has the choice among the sword, shield and wand, presented by... a caption thing stating in unequivocal terms that the choice will shape the rest of the adventure.
- In Chain of Memories, at the end of Riku's story, DiZ tells him to choose the road he'll take. The road to light, or the road to darkness. Riku chooses the middle road. "The road to dawn."
- The professor offering the player a choice among three starters at the beginning of every Pokémon game. There are also the fossils you can choose between in most versions, usually with a "fossil maniac" ready to take the one you don't grab.
- The Stanley Parable uses a version of this trope with two doors as a central motif.
- The later Ultima games began with a series of two-choice presentations, between which of two Virtues conflict in hypothetical situations. This is how the game determines your Character Class; each Virtue has a respective class, and the last Virtue you choose is your class. (Protip: Humility is the weakest class, the Shepherd, but because Humility is the basis of all Virtues, it makes being the Avatar easier in the long run.)
- The StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm campaign has evolutions that can be applied to certain units. Once chosen, the evolution is permanent the unselected one cannot be used for the remainder of the campaign.
- Played for laughs in the Adventure Time episode "Another Way," when Finn meets at a crossroads where he must chose between going down a path that will make his hair fall out or a path that will make him smelly forever. He ops for a third option: going straight through the middle of the two paths, which happens to be covered in thorny bushes.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, at the end of season 2, Iroh tells Zuko he needs to choose whether to side with either the Avatar or Azula. The episode is even called "The Crossroads of Destiny." He chooses Azula, but it turns out he can change his mind.
- In the previous episode, Aang is being counseled into opening his chakras, which will allow him to enter the Avatar State at will, and remain in control while he does so — which has been one of his objectives for the entire season, after he unintentionally obliterated an entire enemy fleet while in the Avatar State in the previous season finale. All is going well, with Aang facing and overcoming various manifestations of his inner turmoil, until the final chakra, when it transpires that he will have to choose between his "worldly attachments" (read: love) and the "pure cosmic energy" that will allow him to master the Avatar State. He's on the verge of deciding when he has a premonition that his Love Interest Katara has just been captured and imprisoned. Before he can take off after her, his guru warns him that if he leaves now, he might not be able to use the Avatar State at all. He chooses to go anyway.